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Here's a recent Microsoft article claiming, "Windows 95 was launched on August 24, 1995".

https://blogs.windows.com/windows-insider/2020/08/24/looking-back-the-25th-anniversary-of-windows-95/

But I distinctly remember thinking that it was late, back at that time. It had always seemed like a lot of hubris to name a product after a date only to find you couldn't ship it on time. But is my memory incorrect?

(Maybe actual availability came in 1996 for some reason?)

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    Well, for a long time what was to become Windows 95 went under the name of "Chicago". Only in september 1994 (beta 1.4), did it become Windows 95. https://betawiki.net/wiki/Windows_95_build_189
    – StarCat
    Aug 28 '20 at 12:32
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    it was originally planned in 1895 but got delayed. Aug 28 '20 at 13:15
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    I opened my original Windows95 box to see if I jammed my receipt into the box when I bought it - but no joy. What I did discover however, was my long-lost Windows 98 CD! So thanks for that!
    – Geo...
    Aug 28 '20 at 15:24
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    I'm pretty sure OSR2 came out in 1996 if that might have contributed to any confusion?
    – Tommy
    Aug 28 '20 at 15:53
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    I recall jokes around that time that Microsoft were going to buy up the year 1996 and rename it ‘1995 part 2’, so they wouldn't have to rename Windows 95 when it was late…
    – gidds
    Aug 29 '20 at 10:25
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Yes, Windows 95 really was released on August 24, 1995; I still have the special issue of The Times that heralded the event.

But I distinctly remember thinking that it was late, back at that time.

That’s not surprising: Microsoft had been trumpeting the release of the next version of Windows for a long time, and there was widespread coverage in the media for a long time before the actual release, which was originally announced for 1994. Many magazines had lengthy articles about “Windows 4” or “Chicago” (the operating system’s code name) in 1994 and even 1993; they also shipped a number of demo disks quite a while before the actual release, and Microsoft themselves had a “preview” program available in some countries. The Windows 95 name was settled on late in 1994. As a result of all this, Windows 95 was perceived as “coming soon” for a very long time before its actual availability.

This wasn’t new for Microsoft; MS-DOS 6 had also had a lengthy beta program with a lot of users quite a long time before its release.

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    The rumour/joke was that Bill Gates named it Windows 95 in order to force its release during 1995,
    – user722
    Aug 28 '20 at 14:40
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    I thought the joke was that the Windows versions back then included their expiration year in the name.
    – Ray
    Aug 29 '20 at 10:38
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    I'm pretty sure that many people at the time compared the new naming scheme to car model years. Windows 95 was very late by that metric.
    – benrg
    Aug 29 '20 at 17:58
  • @benrg In the UK at that time, new registration letters were introduced on the first of August each year (see Wikipedia) so it was pretty close to being "on time" :-)
    – TripeHound
    Aug 29 '20 at 18:39
  • youtube.com/watch?v=sz5pE2muRWI <-- Here is a video of some (or all?) of those testing versions of Windows 95 Aug 31 '20 at 15:31
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For a long time (starting late 1992/ early 1993), what was to become Windows 95 went under the name of "Chicago".

Only in september 1994 (beta 1.4 / build 189), did it become Windows 95. Microsoft must have been reasonably sure they were going to release in 1995 by then.

Early Chicago Usability Testing builds - 1992/93

Last Chicago labeled build - build 180

First Windows 95 branded build - build 189

Windows 95 Release to manufacturing (RTM) - build 950 r-6

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    Another reason why it might have "felt" like it was delayed was that even before Chicago, Microsoft was talking about Cairo, the Greatest OS Of All Time, that would revolutionize everything and be orders of magnitude better than Windows NT, OS/2, Mac OS, Unix, AmigaOS, TOS, and everything else that came before … and then they released what was essentially Windows with an integrated DOS Installer. Aug 29 '20 at 6:48
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    Note that Cairo is what would eventually become Windows NT 4.0. While more stable than Windows 95, it did sacrifice compatibility with some legacy applications (those which used some low-level DOS features). Windows 95 took the opposite approach—compatibiity over stability. As for “essentially Windows”, 95 certainly did introduce a lot of innovation: 32-bit applications by default, preemptive over cooperative multitasking, and a heavily modernized UI. Compared to what we are used to these days, it feels archaic, but coming from Windows 3.11, Win95 felt like alienware…
    – user149408
    Aug 29 '20 at 12:04
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    @user149408 Cairo was actually a unreleased operating system and/or collection of technologies. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo_(operating_system) Windows 4.0 didn't really have a code name, so the name Cairo ended getting associated with it, but it was never supposed to be the revolutionary product that Cairo was supposed to be.
    – user722
    Aug 29 '20 at 15:36
  • @Ross Ridge: Note that Windows 95 was Windows "version 4" while Windows NT had its own "version 4".
    – ecm
    Aug 29 '20 at 16:13
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    @ecm Sorry, meant to write "Windows NT 4.0",
    – user722
    Aug 29 '20 at 17:04
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Here's a BBC News article describing the midnight retail availability of Windows 95 on 24th August 1995. This Mashable article claims to show a photograph of a buyer at the Australian launch on the same date. It gives a November date for Japan.

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Yes, it was released in 1995, as other answers demonstrate through references.

But I distinctly remember thinking that it was late, back at that time.

Yup.

But is my memory incorrect?

No.

In fact, this is WHY the product called Windows 95 got the name that it did.

People were so fed up with the delays for something initially slated for 1993, that when Microsoft was going to again announce a delay from the intended Spring 1995 release, they also announced the formal name change. The point was to really, really emphasize that yes, they really are going to get this thing out in 1995. Because, as you correctly remembered, they were quite late.

By the way, shortly before Windows 95's release, OS/2 was actually outselling Microsoft Windows. Microsoft might not have had the success they did with Windows if they ended up delaying the product significantly, again.

Of course, the reality is, they did ship this in 1995. And that initial version wouldn't run for more than 49.7 days (without requiring a reboot) because of one of the product's uncaught bugs. I believe it also did not come with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Some features that many people think of as being part of Windows were actually released in a separate product called the "Windows 95 Plus!" pack, as a sold add-on which contained the Internet Jumpstart Kit including Microsoft Internet Explorer, and DriveSpace (which was previously part of MS-DOS 6.2 and 6.22), System Agent (later renamed to Task Scheduler), and other items like "graphical improvements such as anti-aliased screen fonts, full-window drag" (to quote WikiPedia's article for "Microsoft Plus!", section called "Microsoft Plus! for Windows 95). Perhaps such simplification helped to enable the greater focus on the larger operating system to be able to meet the desired target date.

So, in summary, Microsoft managed to get the thing out by 1995 by releasing a not-quite-polished-real-well version.

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    And people of the time clamored for this released version, which they widely fell in love with. One of Windows 95's biggest features, by the way, was the ability to run the brand new Word 95, which contained automatic spell check, which would underline words in Red as you typed. The older versions of Word required launching a spell check (often with a keyboard shortcut) which would then find problems and present them one-at-a-time, sort of like today's "Find" dialog boxes. Quite a few people spent quite a lot of money upgrading things, ultimately just for that awesome bleeding-edge feature.
    – TOOGAM
    Aug 31 '20 at 14:50
  • Plus! was available on 95’s release date, it wasn’t a “fix” (apart from fixing missing features). IIRC the 49.7-day bug wasn’t fixed until Windows 98SE. Aug 31 '20 at 15:06
  • @StephenKitt The confirmed truth of that release date would indicate that the Plus! pack probably did not include a bunch of updated drivers and bug fixes (like what I had been told many years ago, back in the 20th century). Regarding the 49.7 day crashing bug, I know they released a bug fix for Win 95. A claim that this wasn't fixed until Windows 98 SE sounds hard to believe. Evidence shows... they fixed this bug, but not until after the release of an operating system 3 years later?!? c-bit.org/Q/216641/EN-US seems so. Oh, wow. Thank you for helping to keep info accurate.
    – TOOGAM
    Sep 1 '20 at 13:44
  • You’re welcome ;-). I have a local copy of the Windows 95 fix, and the file providing the actual fix, inside the original archive, is dated June 23, 1998, with information files dated March 22, 1999 (so the archive wasn’t made available before then). Bear in mind that, while having such a bug in an OS seems astounding nowadays, back then the computers on which Windows 9x was supposed to be used were rarely left on more than a day. Sep 1 '20 at 13:52
  • @TOOGAM "Upgrading things" is right. I recall thinking, back at the time, that 8MB was a pretty decent amount of RAM for a computer, but an 8MB PC running an early release of Win95 was incredibly slow. RAM was pretty expensive at the time, so needing to upgrade an already well-specified machine just to run the OS efficiently was not an appealing prospect.
    – Chromatix
    Sep 2 '20 at 15:29
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In a sense, it was late. Early in Development Microsoft expected to ship Windows 4 sooner than 1995. Wikipedia does list "Windows 93" and "Windows 94" as temporary project codenames for what was eventually released as Windows 95. But there was never public marketing for "Windows 94." Perhaps at the time you heard about Microsoft having an intention to release Windows 4 in 93 or 94, so you considered it late despite there being no real public commitment to an earlier timeline for the release.

That said, it was released in 1995, as the name suggests. Windows 98 likewise had "Windows 97" as an internal name before the timeline for release got finalized. It's pretty normal to start a project with an initial overly optimistic timeline.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Microsoft_codenames#Windows_3.x_and_9x

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